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Tuesday, 14 March 2017

South West Coast Path - Tintagel to Port Isaac

Jacket's Point

An 9 mile walk along the South West Coast Path between Tintagel and Port Isaac

Very much a demanding and challenging walk that is not for the casual walker. Despite the strenuous terrain, the scenery is magnificent and there is a true sense of achievement by the end of the hike that makes the pint of ale at the Port Gaverne Hotel even more rewarding. Oh, and beware of the ghosts of Backways Cove.

Tintagel to Port Isaac Walk - Essential Information

Walk Statistics:

Start point
TintagelView in OS Map | View in Google Map
End Point
Port IsaacView in OS Map | View in Google Map
Total Walk distance
9.0 miles
Walk difficulty
Severe
Terrain
Cliff top paths
Obstacles
This walk is very demanding, there are seven steep valleys to cross. One needs to be a fit walker to complete this section

Accommodation:

Valley Camping and Caravan Park, PolzeathView in OS Map | View in Google Map
Website
Description
A friendly and welcoming family owned camp and caravan site close to the beach at polzeath

Transport:

First Group - Bus Service
Service Number
96 - First Group 96 service linking Wadebridge and Camelford via Polzeath, Port Isaac, Delabole
Timetable

Walk Data

Date of Walk
2016-06-27
Walk Time
10:30 to 16:30
Walkers
Griffmonster, Kat
Weather Conditions
Warm, blue skies and sunshine

Walk Notes

A word of warning before tackling this section of the coast path. This is strenuous. In my humble opinion this is one of the most arduous sections of the entire South West Coast Path. There is no single point along it that earns this reputation, in fact there are steeper and more challenging climbs elsewhere. There are more treacherous sections than anything here. There are certainly more lengthy sections than this. There are sections with more overall ascent. What makes this section particularly difficult is the seven valleys that need to be crossed. They consist of steep descents followed by steep climbs, with a total ascent of over 2100ft. There is no short alternative, and no easy way out other than the road at Trebarwith Strand and no way of curtailing the walk or dividing it into two sections. So before committing to this, one needs to be a strong and fit walker as this is certainly no Sunday stroll.

Having stated this, the walk is awesome. The scenery is breathtaking. The wildness is exhilarating and dramatic. Without a doubt one of the most satisfying walks on the South West Coast Path. But do not overestimate your abilities. Make sure you have walked other challenging sections of Coast Path before tackling this one. Take plenty of water. Take enough food rations for the day. Take each challenge in your own time.

The Port Isaac bus stops at at the junction of the main road in Tintagel where Fore Street leads into the town centre. Instantly one is right in the middle of the commercial side of the town with plenty of tourists and visitors. The car parks are full. The shops are bustling. It is one place on the tourist trail of Cornwall that lures the masses with its tales and legends of King Arthur. The sightseers come. They spend. They get the t-shirt and then depart for the next tourist location. Good for local business but crowds are a thing to avoid in my book.

Therefore, a brief stop at the Cornish Bakery to purchase supplies for the days hike and then off down Castle Road. This is the paved road that leads steeply down to the Castle and consequently is also full of folk migrating down the tourist trail to oggle at the ruins that manifest the headland known as The Island. There are even Land Rovers to transport those who are physically impaired or plainly just can't be arsed to walk the distance. Before the road reaches its destination, on the left, is a waymarker that points along a diverging footpath which gently ascends the side of this valley to join the Coast Path at the summit. Once at the top one can start contemplating the magnificence of the scenery devoid of the masses. Once one has satisfied ones eyes with the feast of scenery, then the walk truly begins following the cliff top path. On the landward side is St. Materiana's Church with its square castellated tower. Further along the path crosses the access road to the YHA Tintagel which is perched on the top of the cliff and occupies the former office, engine room and blacksmith's shop of Long Grass Slate Quarry and the first reminder of the areas historic link with the slate trade. Further evidence can be found all along this immediate stretch of coast around Penhallic Point with much slate waste below and more significantly a huge pinnacle of rock towering nearly as high as the cliffs at the former Lanterdan Quarry. This was a column of poor quality slate which was worked around and left there as a stark monument to the dangerous, and at times lethal, work of quarrying slate from the cliff faces.

Looking ahead along the coastline, there is a panoramic view of what lies in store for the whole of the days walk. In all its glory, looking delightful, peaceful and innocent. The gentle grass topped cliffs provide a somewhat rolling landscape. No giants. No crags. Nothing to deter one for sauntering forward with purpose and meaning. But, do not let this deceive you. Do not let the leisurely stroll to this point lure you into a sense of false expectation. Do not take the pleasantness of the landscape for granted. The path is about to lead you across some very strenuous landscapes. By the time you reach the end of the walk, your legs may well be like jelly, and some will be swearing that they will never embark upon another walking expedition again. Ever. Really.

The first challenge is at Trebarwith Strand. The path slowly winds down the hill to the cove where the hamlet comes into view, the Port William pub dominating the scene. The name is taken from the port at the head of the cove from where ships used to carry the slate away. Today there is no port, the slate trade long gone. A cluster of houses line the narrow road that follows the stream down the valley. There is a cafe. There is a car park. There are always a few people. The coast path's final steep descent into this quaint and picturesque scene deposits one at the head of cove with Gull Rock standing peacefully out to sea and crashing waves pounding the rocky beach. It is worth spending a few minutes taking this all in. It is tempting to climb down onto the rocks for a closer view. Some people do. But the sea has no mercy and innocent victims have paid the price by being swept off these rocks by an unexpected freak wave. Do not tempt the sea. Each year people drown at this cove. Stand well clear, respect the sea and admire from a distance.

The path continues from behind the pub, at first zig zagging the grassed hillside and then steeply climbing out of the valley to the top of the cliffs. It is a challenging climb. 300 feet from bottom to top. I told you the going was about to get tougher. And it has. One gets to the top. Draws a few deep breaths. Gulps a few swigs of water in contented satisfaction that the climb has been completed. Then admire the view. The view is always amazing in Cornwall, and this is no different. Spectacular. But there is more exertions to come. And just to emphasise this point, no sooner have you wandered around Dennis Point than the path heads back down to near sea level at Backways Cove to cross another stream before ascending straight back up to a similar height on the opposite side. This valley has a reputation of being haunted although there is no clear reason who, why or what haunts it. See the feature below on the stories associated with this isolated cove. And, if you don't like the thought of ghosts, or the mist is spookily drifting in from the sea or the light is fading and the wind howling with the sound of disembodied souls, then that will give you the impetus to smartly ascend back up to the top. However, if the sun is shining and the blue sky is reflecting in calm seas then there is nothing to give one the impression that this cove bears any paranormal beasties and the climb will be another labour to get to the top.

So, assuming one has made it to the top without being scared to death by the ghost and goulies of Backways Cove then Number two valley can be counted as completed. That means more gulps of refreshing water. More contented satisfaction that the climb is complete. More admiring views of the magnificent coastline. It does feel good to be alive that is for sure.

At this point I would like to emphasize something that is stated in the National Trail guidebook for this section (Minehead to Padstow 2009 Edition). The book clearly states in no uncertain terms that the path along the next section through to Jackets Point follows the field boundaries along the cliff top and at times these come very close to the cliff edge. There is a strongly worded warning which states those suffering from vertigo would be ill-advised to walk this section.

Now I am not good with heights. In fact the South West Coast Path has been quite a challenge in this respect and I am very cautious about getting close to cliff edges as it is totally outside my comfort zone. As always, in planning these walks, there is a lot of preparation, and reading the guide book is part of that preparation. This warning sounded ominous to such an extent I had looked at alternative routes to circumvent this section. Further research from various blogs of other coast walkers had emphasized that the going was not as bad as the book alleges. Even so one has to try to establish whether these are the words of someone who suffers from vertigo or a person who has no qualms of heights and therefore does not appreciate such fears. In the end, the decision to continue along the coast path was taken in the hope that the other walkers were correct and that a bit of courage and a philosophy of 'never look down' would suffice in getting through to Jacket Point.

The path initially leads along the cliff top with the field boundaries quite some distance from the cliff edge. No fear on this at all. The path then leads across the Tregardock valley at Tregonnick Point. This is a somewhat easier descent and climb but nonetheless still a challenge. Number three valley. More water. Another catch of breath and additional admiration of the magnificent scenery but the scary bit ahead is probably still on ones mind and the scenery does not hit the usual nerve of satisfaction. So onward, along the top of the Tregardock cliffs. This offers some easy walking for nearly a mile and this is the section that is supposed to be bad for vertigo sufferers. True, the path is near the edge. True, the field boundaries leave little width between them and the edge. However the edge is masked by vegetation and is not immediately obvious, to such an extent that most of the time was spent admiring the honeysuckle that pervaded the undergrowth rather than concerns about the cliff edge. There is one instance where a stile is right by the edge but this is not too disconcerting. A brief glimpse of height and it is gone. By far the scariest part for anyone with vertigo is the descent into Tregragon valley at Jacket Point. At this point the path follows a drystone wall and yes, it is close to the cliff edge, but one is concentrating on the descent, and is more concerned by the fact that the path ahead seemingly drops off into oblivion. In reality it twists and turns and steeply descends down to the bottom of the valley.

In conclusion there are a lot of scarier sections of coast path that go unmentioned when it comes to the concerns of vertigo sufferers. It was a relief to get past this section, but only because the guide book had added to those anxieties. To those who do suffer from vertigo, then I would say if you have walked many other sections of coast path, this is nothing worse than any other section, in fact I could name many sections where it is a lot worse than this and they go without a mention, let alone a warning, in the guide book.

Getting down to Tregragon valley is very much worth the effort and is definitely somewhere worthy of a rest. This secluded valley is such a photogenic site. There are rocks to sit on. A stream to watch as it trickles out into the sea. The steep valley sides to admire. Definitely somewhere to picnic, albeit a challenge to get ones picnic table there, let alone ones wind-up gramophone, the essential luxury to all picnics.

The climb out of the valley is steep and challenging. A mass of steps that get steeper and steeper and seem never ending. Some of the ascent is over proper constructed steps, others no more than bootmarks that have worn steps into the soil. Take ones time. If need be, take a rest. The top is not going to go away and it does eventually get reached. Valley number four. More calls for water. More catching breath and more admiring the scenery, somewhat elated now that the scary bit has been overcome. However, the legs do now let you know that this is not a Sunday Stroll in the park. Now, I told you it was going to be strenuous! You cannot say I did not warn you. At this point there is no going back you so may as well continue.

No sooner than one starts walking again and it is back down to sea level. This time it is Dinnabroad Valley. Maybe not as challenging as the previous valley but strenuous all the same. Valley number five. If the legs are not telling you something now, you must be very fit and should complete the walk without an issue. If the legs are humming a bit then take ones time. Take plenty of rest breaks. drink plenty of water. If you have not had anything to eat then have something from your supplies. If you have not had you picnic, take it out, sit down, wind up the gramophone and take some time out. There are more challenges to come. And they come in quick succession.

Immediately ahead is the valley at Delabole Point. Down to sea level, across a stream then back up. You should be getting used to this by now. It doesn't stop the telling on the legs though. It never gets any easier. Valley number five completed.

There is no let up for within a few yards the path heads back down another valley at Ranie point, down to sea level, then back up, this time climbing to nearly 400 feet above sea level. Valley number six. By the time the top is reached the legs will feel like jelly. The thirst will need more water. The breath is taken away but not from the scenery which duly takes a back seat to the efforts to recover from the climb. I said this was going to be tough!

Then walking onwards, spirits soon receive a positive boost as Port Isaac comes into view. The end is in sight and that provides the impetus to continue, knowing there will be a refreshing pint of beer and a lot of self congratulating that this section of coast path has been conquered. This may even lead to a spring in ones otherwise tired and weary step as the path leads across the rolling cliff-tops. But. And this is a big but. One may think the back of the challenge has been broken, the valleys crossed and the days exertions met. But I can tell you this, if that spring in your step is there it will soon be halted for yet another valley stands between this point and the final descent to Port Gaverne, above which the bus can be caught back at the top of Port Isaac. Yes, another valley. Just when you thought all the valleys had been crossed, another comes along to fill your boots with disappointment at the mere thought of having to struggle down another hill and climb another mountain. Yes valley number seven. St Illickswell Gug. That should provide a chuckle of laughter but I am sure grown men have had tears in their eyes when confronted by this final valley when they had thought the climbing had been completed. On the positive side this valley is not one of the worse but it still needs effort and stamina to get across. More water. More apprehension that maybe there is another valley lurking between the short distance to the end. But that is it. I promise. Seven valleys completed.

The path crosses a road and descends down to Port Gaverne and quite conveniently, the building at the bottom is the Port Gaverne Hotel and I can promise you that the pint of Proper Job will be the finest pint you have ever drank after completing this walk. It WILL be that moment from the classic scene in the film Ice Cold in Alex . But this will not be a scene from a 1958 movie, this will be reality in its full glory and I can tell you without a doubt that the golden pint of Proper Job will slip down your neck like no other has done, like no other ever will do. You have completed one of the most demanding sections of the South West Coast Path. There is no greeting party or completion parade but you have done it.

There is the small amble up the road to Port Isaac but that is nothing.

Valley at Dannon Chapel
Valley at Dannon Chapel

Directions

The South West Coast Path is clearly marked with the usual acorn markers of a national trail

Go to the coastal end of Fore Street in Tintagel and follow the lane down to the castle. Before getting to the bottom, there is a footpath out of the valley on the left. Follow this to the top to join the South West Coast Path.

The path is now well defined and waymarked throughout.

View of path on northern side of Jacket's Point A pinicle of rock at the former Lanterdan  quarry workings at Hole Beach near Trebarwith Strand
On the left View of path on northern side of Jacket's Point ; On the right A pinicle of rock at the former Lanterdan quarry workings at Hole Beach near Trebarwith Strand

Pubs

The Port William, Trebarwith View in OS Map | View in Google Map

Image of pub
Address
Trebarwith Strand, Trebarwith
Website

Some have stated that there is no better location in Cornwall to match this pub. It is true that it is in a magnificent position to admire this wild and beautiful cove and it is very popular with tourists and locals alike. It is a St Austells house with the standard range of their beers.

Review

Although not visited on this walk, we have nonetheless visited on other occasions. The location says it all, as you cannot get a better location for a pub. Standard St Austel ales and the Proper Job is well worth drinking

The Port Gaverne Hotel, Port Isaac View in OS Map | View in Google Map

Image of pub
Address
Port Gaverne, Port Isaac
Website

A 17th century restored inn that is full of charm and steeped in history. It used to be the local village inn and has retained its slate floors, low wooden beams with roaring fires in winter. Good ale. Good food. And on the Coast Path

Review

Although advertised as a hotel, this has a quaint little bar. Not that one spent much time inside when there are tables and chairs by the roadside to watch the world go by. And the Proper Job was such a rewarding end to this strenuous walk.

Trebarwith Strand
Trebarwith Strand

Features

The Haunting of Backways CoveView in OS Map | View in Google Map

The Coast Path leading west from Trebarwith Strand climbs out of the valley and then immediately descends back down into an isolated cove where a stream exudes to the sea from its journey down from springs up near the village of Delabole. This cove is reputedly haunted although little information can be found about the basis of the hauntings or any actual encounters. Many of the guides to the area present a brief mention to visitors about the restless souls of shipwrecked sailors whose ships have come to grief along the jagged and rocky coastline. But that could be said about virtually any cove around Cornwall's coastline. So why is this specific cove picked out as being haunted?

In addition to the ghostly sailors, there is also a tale that alleges the hauntings are of the spectre of a local farmers' son. This story is elaborated into a complete tale that is reiterated across many websites, the similarity in word structure pointing to a common source, which is probably a book from the year 2000 titled The International Directory of Haunted Places by author Dennis William Hauck. There is one other alleged source and that is simply a folklore enthusiast called Kath although there is no expansion upon this mystery character.

In most instances, the story begins with Many years ago a man with two sons.. and tells the tale of two brothers who were part of a prosperous farming family who owned an estate close to the Cove. On the death of the father, the entire estate was left to the eldest son with the younger receiving nothing. The two brothers went their separate ways and over time the younger son's animosity at being left with no inheritance built up to such an extent that he hatched plans of revenge over his brother, convinced that he had been cheated out of his birthright. So, under the cover of night he went to the family home and set light to it. The fire soon took hold and by the morning the building had been burnt to the ground with no signs of life. The twist in the tale is that the elder brother had died prior to the blaze and had left the entire estate in his will to his brother. And there the story ends.

Quite why this would illicit a ghost story is unknown. One could guess that racked with guilt the younger brother had committed suicide and his tormented soul is condemned to roam the scene for all eternity but these are purely my own words. Such finales are never stated.

It is interesting to note that in all the instances of the story, they establish some kind of connection to reality by attesting and the remains of the farm still stand above Backways Cove, although no account provids a specific location of these ruins. Surveying the area does result in a possible candidate. The distinctive remains of a stone house perched in a precarious position on the southern side of the valley above a sheer drop to the waters below. This is undoubtedly a dwelling of some kind for at the far side of the building are what appear to be the remains of two fireplaces. The position of this ruin is best viewed from the northern side of the cove, and it appears directly opposite at the point where the coast path turns from heading out of the valley towards the cliff edge to ascend the final climb to the top of the cliff. The images on this page show the location and there is a close up view available at wikimedia.

Considering this is a steep sided valley it seems a strange position to place a farm building. The 2011 publication Cornish Archaeology offers another explanation for the ruins. In a brief account of their undertakings for the Atlantic Coasts and Valleys Project, this publication clearly states that an assessment of the locality resulted in finding remains of the slate quarrying industry around Backways Cove, with quarries, masons’ sheds, wagon-ways, boat-loading points and cottages. This would clearly implicate that this former structure was part of the well recognised slate industry for which the area was renowned and nothing to do with a farm. so either this is not the ruins spoken about or it has been attached to this story merely because it is there and is a ruin.

In conclusion, this story seems to have been garnered from a modern day book or an unidentified folklorist called Kath and then plagiarised across modern media in a virtually word for word fashion. This does not conclude that the tale does not come from an older original source or indeed from spoken tales of those who live in the locality. There may well be older undiscovered sources and even more explicit versions of the tale but we have yet to locate them. However, with the stark information thus far obtained we can established very little information about the provenance, period or characters involved. On the other hand, maybe it is merely a tall tale told to gullible tourists.

References
Path descending down the cliffside at Jacket's Point
Path descending down the cliffside at Jacket's Point

Images

Below are a selection of images taken from from the photo album for this walk. Feel free to browse through these or click on any image to view a larger version in the Gallery.

Click on an image below to view the Image Gallery

Maps

Below is the route depicted on the OpenStreetMap, Ordnance Survey Map and Google Map. Links to full page versions are found in the Essential Information

Summary of Document Changes

Last Updated: ... 2017-03-14

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